John Sterling earned the 400th win of his prestigious coaching career Tuesday night, as his Secaucus girls’ team defeated Leonia, 69-27, to begin the new season with a 3-0 record.
Sterling, who had stops at Wood-Ridge and Bogota before arriving at Secaucus six years ago, believes there’s a reason for reaching such an impressive milestone.
“I’ve been coaching for a very long time,” Sterling said. “That’s the answer I give everyone.”
All kidding aside, it’s quite a feat that not many coaches reach. Coaches tend to find other things to do with their lives instead of having the longevity to remain in the coaching profession. Sterling is a rare lifer.
“What it does is give me the chance to reflect on the great players I’ve coached,” Sterling said. “I consider myself blessed to be able to coach so many great kids. It’s been a pleasure.”
Perhaps there has been no team more pleasing that the Patriot team he’s currently coaching. Sterling has a veteran team returning, almost fully intact, from last year’s 23-5 team that captured the NJIC Meadowlands Division title and advanced to the semifinals of the Hudson County Tournament, losing by just a single point to eventual champion Lincoln.
“Getting back with the girls was something I was looking forward to and I think they were looking forward to it as well,” Sterling said. “We graduated only one senior from last year and we have some excellent freshmen coming in. So I think we all knew we would be pretty good.”
Sterling will still have a very young team this season, featuring a lot of freshmen and sophomores.
“Good skills make up for experience,” Sterling said.
Two of the sophomores had fantastic freshman campaigns a year ago.
Julia McClure made an instant impression as a rookie, averaging 14 points and 12 rebounds per game, despite standing only 5-foot-7. Her efforts earned her a spot on the Hudson Reporter All-Area First Team, the first freshman to earn the honor since North Bergen’s Lauren Jimenez made it as a freshman in 2004.
“She plays with such toughness,” Sterling said. “Julia goes all out in every possession. She’s a very modest kid, but she wants to be good. She’s not going to surprise anyone now. Everyone is going to know her, but I think she will continue to get better. She can go back and play her natural position now, because we have some size with our freshmen.”
Added Sterling, “Julia is the toughest kid I’ve ever coached. She gives everything you want in a player and the others see the values of what she does with her hard work.”
Another standout sophomore returning after a successful freshman campaign is 5-foot-4 point guard Andie Lennon, who averaged 14 points and eight assists last year, earning Hudson Reporter All-Area Second Team.
“I don’t know if I had two freshmen of that quality who made the impact that Lennon and McClure did,” Sterling said. “Andie did so much with the ball. She’s such a tough player.”
The well doesn’t run dry there. Senior Danielle Roesing is a 5-foot-6 guard who does a lot of the team’s dirty work.
“She’s very tough, very steady and very reliable,” Sterling said. “She doesn’t get flustered with anything and she’s a superb help defender. She gets a lot of tips and steals and that gets the offense going. She’s also very unselfish.”
Roesing is another of the extremely talented Roesing family that has dominated Secaucus athletics for the past 10 years. She averaged eight points per game last season and earned Hudson Reporter All-Area Third Team. Three players among the top 15 in the county and they’re all back.
Senior Danielle Mitchell is another returning starter. Mitchell is a 5-foot-7 forward.
“She will see a ton of time for us this year,” Sterling said. “She actually plays against the opponent’s top post player and holds her own. She’s a good defensive player.”
Senior Ariana Simon has been with the program for four years, but she’s been hurt by injuries, including a severe concussion last year. She will not be able to play this season, but she will stay with the team.
“I feel terrible for her, but she understood and wanted to remain with us,” Sterling said.
Senior Odie Jimenez is a forward who is up from the junior varsity team. She will contribute off the bench.
Sophomore Kendall Caruso is another guard who has a great 3-point shot. She made five from behind the arc in the loss to Lincoln in the county semifinals.
“She gives us a big boost off the bench, especially with that shooting ability,” Sterling said.
Freshman guard Christina Ulrich – another from the Roesing/Ulrich family connection – has already made an impact. The 5-foot-3 Ulrich, a cousin to Danielle Roesing, has good ball handling skills.
“We have another ball handler to help with Andie,” Sterling said. “She can run the point as well.”
Freshman forward Zoe Pero will make an impact. The 5-foot-11 Pero is the first true post presence Sterling has had since he arrived. Pero’s father, Mike, has been the coach of a Secaucus youth team that has helped develop these players.
“We’ve never had a player where we could go inside,” Sterling said of Pero. “We can now focus on getting the ball inside.”
Alyson Toman is another tall girl to play inside. The 5-foot-10 Toman can pair with Pero if Sterling wants to go big against opponents.
“Alyson can help with the inside scoring off the bench,” Sterling said. “You can see with the freshmen and sophomores that there’s a bright future in front of us.”
A lot of that future showed bright last week when the Patriots defeated Ridgewood, a Bergen County perennial power.
“It’s always nice to play a big school and come out on top,” Sterling said. “It was a great test for us.”
And it’s one that the Patriots passed with flying colors.
“I tell the girls that if we execute and play our style, we can beat the quality opponents,” Sterling said.
Incredibly, the Patriots will face Ridgewood again Dec. 26 at the Paterson Eastside Holiday Tournament.
“It just happened our schedule turned out that way,” Sterling said.
But Sterling has to be pleased, milestone withstanding. He’s going to be well on his way to No. 500 this season alone.
“We’re all excited,” Sterling said. “We still have a lot of work to do, but I’m very excited. This is a very good team, a different team for us. They just have to work hard and do their best.”
And if that takes place, chances are Secaucus will be right in the mix for a possible county tournament title come February. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.